Why the e-cigarette industry needs STANDARDS, not regulation

I noticed this piece in The Conversation yesterday (it also popped up on another, unrelated news site), and unlike the usual vaping related articles, it wasn’t penned by the illustrious Simon Chapman.

Of course, just because it wasn’t written by Chapman doesn’t mean it’s going to be a positive article. After all, The Conversation is his own playground.

I’ve written about regulations and standards before, and my views haven’t changed. The BSI PAS was in response to the TPD and thus had to operate within the confines of that Directive, which as we know is very limiting in what can, and can’t be done. From regulation flows bad standards. From good standards flows good regulation. The downside is, good standards can (and do) take years to put in place.

The e-cigarette industry has been increasingly viewed as one of the most disruptive changes in the tobacco market, with vapes now commonly perceived as an alternative to traditional tobacco products.

Well yes, the humble e-cigarette industry has achieved a great deal of success from the first viable commercial offering developed by Hon Lik. As a result of this success, millions of people have chosen to use the product instead of smoking, and, if guided by good standards with light regulation can probably do a lot more.

Yet an industry that emerged as a potential alternative to traditional tobacco, and was once populated with smaller independent manufacturers, is now dominated by Big Tobacco.

No, it isn’t. The tobacco industry is developing their own products, and on occasion acquiring independent manufacturers that suit their marketing plan, but to say the vaping industry is “dominated” is disingenuous.

The reason is clear: E-cigarettes are now a multi-billion dollar industry and present a massive growth potential of double digits annually. By controlling this business, Big Tobacco effectively controls its own competition.

Not only do some elements of the tobacco industry want to control the market, they’d like to see the independent sector gone.

Today, some of the most popular e-cigarette brands are owned by Big Tobacco, leading to the industry’s partial transformation into Big Vape.

There is no such thing as “Big Vape“.

Given the explosion of e-cigarettes, the increase in the unregulated manufacturing of e-liquids in China and their questionable impact on health, there has been mounting pressure to regulate them just as traditional tobacco products are.

The e-liquids aren’t just manufactured in China, you cretin. There are manufacturers worldwide. Also, the mounting pressure to regulate them is coming from people who don’t actually understand them.

Suggested regulations include restrictions on their sale to minors, a ban on vaping in public places, testing and labelling requirements and restrictions on advertisements and online selling. Compliance with many of these regulations would take several years and would be costly.

And so Big Tobacco has been lobbying against these regulations — and the independent players are anti-regulation as well.

There’s a lot to say here. First and foremost, many vapers are not anti-regulation. Many of us simply want sensible regulation. Very few support bans on vaping in public places, or the excessive labelling requirements. Some do support the under-age sale restrictions, some don’t – that one is particularly divisive. I, however, do not support the under-age restrictions, but if it has to be in place then proxy-purchase for a smoking u18’s needs to be allowed.

Restrictions on advertising need to be carefully considered, and guidance for advertising should really be sufficient instead of outright bans on where (and when) ads can be placed.

My survey of vapers primarily from Canada and the United States reveals a predominantly negative perception of Big Tobacco-owned e-cigarette brands (73 per cent) among adult vapers.

About 80 per cent of the vapers surveyed are brand-aware. Yet, the negative bias towards Big Tobacco persists even in case of consumers who are not aware whether a specific brand of e-cigarette is owned by Big Tobacco.

Frankly, I couldn’t care less if a vaper chooses to use a product made by the tobacco industry or not. Yes, the tobacco industry has a lot to answer for with regards to historical lying, and they do deserve to be closely monitored now and in the future. The tobacco industry has the financial power to research & develop new products to meet general needs. They also have the market reach that the independent manufacturers don’t have. You’ll not see independent products on shelves in supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury, nor will you see tobacco industry products gracing the shelves of independent vape retailers.

Regulations on e-cigarettes are likely just a matter of time. And when more stringent regulations are introduced, Big Tobacco will be better able to comply given their resource base and their experience with similar regulations on tobacco products.

For the EU Member States, the regulations are already here, and for Malaysia, things are getting worse.

Independent manufacturers are likely to be pushed out of the market because of associated cost implications. Therefore, regulations are likely to act as a barrier to entry into this highly price-elastic industry, while bolstering the positions of Big Vape/Tobacco.

Which is exactly what the zealots want. Instead of dealing with numerous independent retailers, the anti-smoker organisations and ‘public health’ would prefer to deal with a single entity. After all, isn’t that why the vapour industry has been labelled as “Big Vape”?

One possible way forward for the e-cigarette industry is to develop a transnational private regulation (TPR). A TPR is a coalition of non-government actors, including a variety of business interests, industry associations and special interest groups.

It involves developing a systematic approach to codify, monitor and certify compliance with specific accountability standards.

The trouble with that idea is the power-play between the bigger players. Already we’ve seen that with the various industry bodies both in the UK and in the US. Naturally, this is why consumer organisations are needed to represent the needs of the consumer, instead of only having the views of the industry.

Following this lead, the e-cigarette industry, specifically e-cigarette associations, must engage in deeper research and collaboration with stakeholders.

They must include manufacturers and suppliers, consumer groups, pharmaceutical companies and health practitioners with the aim of developing private regulations that carefully take into account the risks e-cigarette products pose to the health and safety of vapers and those around them.

Unfortunately, that will never actually happen. Pharmaceutical companies and public health will never sit down at the same table as the industry – specifically the tobacco industry, and as many public health grandees view the vaping & tobacco industries as the same thing, it’ll never happen. Especially when public health stick so rigorously to Article 5.3, or at least their interpretation of it.